AN: Sorry for the delay!!! I was grounded for a few days, which turned into a few months, which… yeah.

Anyhoo, here's the next chapter. I'm glad to say that I'm back on my feet, and I hope that people still review, even though I haven't updated since… sometime around April or May.

Dawn crept over the Malibu sea, and Pepper collapsed onto the ruined couch, exhausted. She ran a hand through her hair and exhaled through her teeth, eyes darting around and nerves on edge despite her fatigue.

Tony had been nearly impossible to move. He was practically catatonic, his eyes vacant and staring blankly out into empty space while Pepper tried to rouse him. She had finally had to pull him to his feet and half-carry, half-drag him upstairs and put him to bed. Bed had been a problem itself, as Tony's mattress had been ripped to shreds, along with his pillows, and Pepper found herself wrapping Tony in blankets on the floor.

She had spent the rest of the nighttidying up the house while her disturbed imagination conjured up a gang of masked thieves, dressed in ninja style black and descending from the shadows in hordes to silently kill anything in their way; A ship of aliens hell-bent on building the ultimate weapon; A monstrous metal copycat, intent on revenge.

The last one was, of course, simply not possible. Obadiah was very, very dead, no doubts about that. His body had been burned to a crisp by the arc reactor explosion, and his innards had liquefied, boiled, and leaked out of his body. Pepper knew. She had accidentally stepped on a kidney on the way up to the roof to find Tony.

No, something-someone-had done this, with a very real, very human plan to search, find, and steal. And they had destroyed everything that got in their way.

Pepper felt bile rise in her throat as she remembered Tony's expression when he had found Jarvis. It was absolutely heart rending, the face you usually see on a lost child superimposed onto the face of a man. The face of a child alone and scared, a child that has lost it's only friend, or their mother, or father.

Sometimes Tony's brash nature made people forget how much he had lost over the years. He was a genius, yes, but the knowledge that his intellect was taken from his father, his long dead hero, haunted him every moment of living. Once, while drunk, Tony had told Pepper how he had dreams about his parents, dreams about their last moments. He would see them driving along the road carefree and happy, see his mother's laughter turn to screams as Howard Stark desperately tried to regain control of his car. See them skid across the road. See them plunge through the guardrail, down, down, down.

Tony had some scary inner thoughts.

Pepper sat up straighter, wiping her eyes on the sleeve of her shirt. Pulling out a cell phone, she pressed the speed dial button: The special one to be used in emergencies only.

Pepper would have to e strong for Tony, but she didn't have to do it alone. She wasn't the only one who cared about him.

"Hello, Peter Parker? This is Virginia Potts. Yes, Tony's secretary. Listen, I need you to come over. Yes, right now. I'll book you a ticket on the red eye.

"Yes, this is an emergency."